This article is coming hot off the heels of Batman Inc. #8. Even though this issue was spoiled via DC themselves, I still would like to warn you, the reader, there are spoilers ahead. Also, if you haven’t been reading comics at all, I’m about to spoil some other deaths.
Death is inevitable in comic books. If we learned anything from The Death of Superman, despite whatever you may feel about how that particular event was handled, it’s that anyone can die in comics. Doesn’t matter if you’re the leader of the X-Men or a solar-powered alien who can blow the skin off someone’s face with a simple exhale. And yeah, sure, whatever, Supes came back, and yeah, it was really silly, but you have to admit that, for that instance, you cared. I was scared for Superman when I read the issue. I gritted my teeth as he traded blows with Doomsday. And I threw up a fist pump for his victory.
And if we learned that anyone could die in The Death of Superman, then we also learned that death was never permanent. When someone dies or a death is teased, as comic book fans, we mostly roll our eyes and mutter “he’ll be back”. If that was the case, then why buy comics, ever?
I love death in comics. As a person who seeks deep characterization in comics, I love to have the status quo shaken up. For me, it’s the aftermath of death that I find the most interesting. When a character dies, writers usually try to let them go out on top or as a hero… unless you’re Firestorm, then you just randomly take a sword to the chest. But hey, let’s talk about THAT death.
Despite how abrupt this death was, it felt like his death was amazingly impactful (even for someone who is nowhere near a fan of the character). It wasn’t only impactful to me as a reader, but to everyone around him in the story. They were all surprised by the events as much as I was. They urged him to fly away, but he still took the time to ask his friends to deliver his farewells. At that moment, it didn’t matter that the Firestorm matrix would find someone else and we’d have a new Firestorm; what mattered was that we saw a real human emotion from Ronnie. And Ronnie’s death is the perfect example as to why I love death in comic books.
When a character dies, it doesn’t necessarily change the status quo, but it does force these very fictional characters to embrace emotions and situations we as people deal with regularly. It’s one thing to save the city time and time again, but it’s another when Ralph Dibny is struggling to deal with the death of his wife. Or when Wolverine gives his thoughts on the death of Professor Xavier – a man who is, to him, a father figure.
I care about death in comics because I care about the characters I read about. If a death in a comic is pointless, then comics themselves are pointless. If you can ignore a death because you’ve reassured yourself that it’s only temporary, then you can say the same thing about every threat. If every villain is only temporary, then you’ve robbed yourself of the excitement.
Am I naive enough to think that they’ll kill Superman off forever? No. But when he does get the axe, will I feel the emotional impact reverberated among his cohorts? Yes. And upon his inevitable return, will I roll my eyes at the silliness of the situation? Absolutely. Then again, the return is all a result off the writer. Some of them are ridiculous and some of them are handled very well. Green Lantern: Rebirth is a shining example of how a return from the grave can be incredible. I may get crap for this, but others like Captain America: Reborn is a shining example of how stupid they can be. I mean, a bullet that freezes you within space and time – that’s a bit silly. But hey, suspension of disbelief and all that jazz.
We can never count on death. Damian died this week; will he be back? Seeing as he’s only been around for a few years, I can honestly say I’m not sure, and that alone is exciting. The little man went out like a champ and I’m crazy excited to see how this affects the rest of the Bat-family. He’s developed a mixed fan base. Some hate him because he’s a total douche, others love him for that fact. And that in itself reveals that we as fans have a pretty big impact as to who comes back from the dead and who doesn’t. When Barry Allen died it was Wally West who replaced him, and there are many readers, including myself, who grew up with Wally. Hal Jordan was replaced with Kyle Rayner and Bucky replaced Steve Rogers, and then both of them were in turn replaced by the men they replaced. So fans may be just as responsible as the writers. And sure, Wally was eventually replaced by Barry but at least Barry had the decency to stay dead for over 20 years despite the small appearances he made between his death and rebirth.
Death in comics, as I’ve said before, is inevitable; rebirth, as we’ve seen, is just as inevitable. You have to take the good with the bad. It gives us reassurance that the heroes can fail. Death, while it never really changes the status quo, does give it a good rock from time to time. I love death in comics for the emotions they stir up and you can even say rebirths stir up the same emotions. (I will be the first to say I love the moments shared between Barry and Wally when Barry came back.) Death in comics can be predictable but it should never be overlooked.